Chinese cartoon blogger's funny take on Western art captures imaginations

Gu Mengjie's unique style of storytelling mesmerises Chinese audience eager to learn about Western art

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 10:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 10:37am

A cartoon blogger’s posts on Western artists and their works have found a new audience amongst China’s young and wealthy.

Gu Mengjie, a Melbourne-based designer who emigrated to Australia ten years ago from Shanghai, launched in July the first issue of his cartoon blog “Little Gu’s Take on Western Art”. 

Since then, the hilarious column that calls French artist Edgar Degas an “otaku” – a term that describes people who stay at home all the time – and impressionist master Vincent Van Gogh the founder of the “lunatics” style, has picked up thousands of followers. Among them are some of China’s most influential artists and critics.

“I am addicted to your column,” a reader commented on Weibo, where Gu, or "Grandpa Gu" as his fans call him, updates his cartoon blog and exchanges ideas with readers. “I find it both funny and educational.”

“I am crying with laughter,” another reader wrote after reading Gu’s column on Andy Warhol that compared the American pop art icon to pop singer Lady Gaga – a well-known celebrity in China.

The size of Gu’s audience may be tiny compared to the country’s most followed bloggers, but his unique style of storytelling that exploits the hippie vocabulary and jokes of China’s Web 2.0 generation has mesmerised an increasingly curious audience who are eager to learn about Western art.

Coming from a completely different culture, Chinese readers say they are especially impressed by Gu’s ability to “bring back to life” the long-dead Western artists whom they had found “intimidating” and “hard-to-understand,” and his way of writing about their lives in a way they can relate to.

“People think they don’t understand Western art - but they are missing the real point,” Gu said. He argued that it was much more important for beginners to learn to appreciate a piece of work than to “understand” it.

Gu has done an admirable job keeping readers entertained. He once called French artist Gustave Courbet a “bad boy” and Jean-Léon Gérôme’s paintings the predecessor of the 3D-IMAX movie. His unique style has earned him a loyal audience, who keep returning to his website and begging for more posts.

“I’ve been reading gossips about artists but I’ve also learned facts and theories that I don’t learn in my art class,” a reader said.

Despite the overwhelming praise, Gu said he was “no professional” and admitted his new career had been inspired by a “lucky accident”.

Months ago when he went to a Claude Monet exhibition with a friend, Gu ended up commenting on and explaining the paintings to his friend throughout the tour.

“My friend seemed to be swept away by my comments, and I thought maybe others will like it too if I start a blog,” Gu said.

Months after the debut of his now extremely popular column, Gu attributed its success to the attention from China’s rising middle class.

“I guess now that the Chinese are getting more affluent, they need some interesting material to talk about in their leisure time, and my blog gives them exactly that,” he said.